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Platform consolidation yields better apps

Reducing platform complexity allows developers to focus on what they do best: building tools for innovation and growth

By James Daly

  • Businesses manage hundreds of applications on multiple platforms, creating unwanted complexity and cost
  • Switching to a unified platform improves time‑to‑market, quality, and security for new apps
  • Consolidation also improves employee productivity and job satisfaction

Few things change more quickly today than the technologies that drive a modern business, but the rapid pace comes with some hidden roadblocks.

New research suggests that the engine of experimentation at many companies, the development platforms used to build critical software applications, is becoming a digital rat’s nest, weighed down by layers of complexity that cut into productivity, jack up costs, and threaten a key competitive advantage of digital business—speed.

A typical enterprise organization today juggles an average of 284 business applications, according to a June 2018 study, “Improve Business Agility Through Platform Consolidation,” conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of ServiceNow. More than two‑thirds of surveyed companies use multiple platforms to create applications. Over half of the companies say their existing technology architecture is too complex and costly.

The survey highlights two critical pain points of platform complexity. First, business applications operate in a tangle of platforms, upgrades, and patches. Second, many companies are building new platforms atop the old ones without resolving the headaches.

The platform predicament

“There are so many [app development] products out there that people like to pick what they consider to be the best‑of‑breed product for a particular task,” says Allan Leinwand, chief technology officer at ServiceNow. “They’re focused on functionality to reduce their complexity as opposed to what’s better overall to run and operate their business.”

Such a disjointed digital operation can lead to cost overruns and other problems and is often a top barrier to employee productivity. Yet for many companies it’s a necessary evil that has to be managed carefully.

“There’s a natural lifecycle of digital innovation, whether in startups or multinationals,” says Amiel Kornel, venture practice leader at the consultancy Strategos and author of “Spinning into Control: Improvising the Sustainable Startup.”

Innovation tends to thrive under open, loosely controlled management, Kornel says. Eventually, though, “operational excellence and customer care demand stricter planning and controls.” The downside? “It is often this shift that extinguishes the company’s creative spark and limits its agility.”

Consolidating app platforms can help strike a balance between the need for rapid development and operational sanity. Companies that have successfully consolidated to a single platform report shorter time‑to‑market with new apps, better business agility, better innovation, and increased security, according to the Forrester study. They also report higher employee productivity and job satisfaction inside and outside of IT.

Paring things down also allows IT leaders to focus on creating applications that drive growth and shifting more apps to the cloud, says Leinwand. But this shift can also cause bumps. Organizations that rush to move applications quickly to the cloud often just drag and drop apps there without taking full benefit of the cloud architecture.

A move to consolidate

The good news is that many companies are taking steps to get ahead of the chaos. According to Forrester, 62% of organizations have begun to consolidate to a handful of core platforms, although only 19% have a single unified platform.

The greatest consolidation efforts have occurred at companies that are invested fully in a digital business strategy that defines how they will create new sources of customer value and revenue. Over a third of these have moved to a unified platform.

While they wrestle with platform challenges that may slow things down, Leinwand says, companies can make up for that short‑term handicap by focusing on apps that constantly improve the customer experience. “Any digital transformation must be focused on your users,” says Leinwand. “Listen to your customers before you undergo a transformation. Listen for their pain points. Then listen to them afterwards. They will tell you if you were right.” 

James Daly is a longtime technology journalist and the former editor of TED Books.



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